The Gender Politics of Security Cameras

By Sarah MacKenzie

This past year has been one full of statistics – numbers and projections that have defined our daily lives. The coronavirus pandemic coupled with the 2020 election and George Floyd protests made our world complete with defining moments that pretty much shut out any other news that remained relevant for individuals in their personal lives. As we have been sitting and watching the news over the past year and waiting for our worlds to get back to normal, some students have perhaps felt fear for things to return to “normal” because their safety has only been violated even more as COVID restrictions have gripped tight.

In March 2018, Elena Meth reflected on her experience listening to an Aug-O lecture about sexual assault. She reviewed her response to Denison sharing a statistic that ⅕ of students would be assaulted throughout their time on the Hill. Elena not only felt uncomfortable sitting next to a group of essentially all strangers who would be potentially assaulted on this campus, but as she grew throughout her time at Denison she was uncomfortable with that particular statistic and its validity.

Being on the ground here at Denison and hearing about the weekend shenanigans every Sunday and Monday I have a hard time believing that the ⅕ statistic is accurate and that it is in fact much higher than the data shows. Many of my specific concerns relate to how these assaults happen and specifically how I have heard of so many when the campus is supposed to be more locked down than ever before. So why does sexual assault seem to have increased (at least in my social circle)? And why does no one get caught?

In our most recent survey, 127 asked about students’ attitudes towards surveillance on campus. I have been particularly interested in these responses due to the fact that I believe some survivors do not come forward about their assaults because they feel they cannot present adequate evidence that would result in a higher authority believing their story. We also felt that comparing this semester’s data with that of 2017 could be a useful representation of how the student body’s attitude towards surveillance has changed over time. The data shows that Denison students are relatively split on this issue.

In 2017 men were considerably more opposed to cameras than women, though that opposition has softened somewhat in the last 4 years. This could suggest that men do not want increased surveillance on their whereabouts while women would support the motion to feel more comfortable and safe. However, the data shows that women have increased their opposition since 2017, representing a shift across the spectrum – women have not become more polarized on this issue.

We took a closer look at the gender differences of the March 2021 survey and it is clear there is a difference between gender. However, the data doesn’t show as much support coming from Denison women as I had previously assumed – they are not as supportive as men are opposed.

There’s an explanation for that – the greek system. While men are as opposed to cameras whether in the greek system or not, women differ. Sisters stand with men, statistically just as opposed as they are. The only group that stands out is women outside of the greek system, who are more supportive of cameras. The differences are not enormous, but they are distinguishable. And that’s not all. I also find that Republicans are more opposed to cameras than Democrats (which once was probably a function of surveillance attitudes), as are people with friends who drink a lot. It’s also notable what is not linked to camera support – white students have the same level of support as non-whites and GPA does not differentiate among students either.

Due to the lack of intensity of support we can assume that surveillance is probably not the most important factor of the issue of safety for students at Denison. Then again, we didn’t provide any further context in the question about how the camera feed would be used. If it is not monitored and is not intended to be used for routine violations (e.g., under age drinking), then it might gain more support. Of course, the evidence highlights a critical question: whose opinion do we listen to when instituting safety measures? The entire public or the portion of it that is likely to benefit from safety measures? That’s complicated here because the group most affected by sexual assault (women) are divided on the issue. But it’s also possible that active discussions regarding sexual respect or other ventures would be more valuable for students.

Sarah MacKenzie is a senior Political Science major from Denver, Colorado. You can find her spending too much time in Knapp and talking about climate change.

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